Is genetic epistemology possible?

Several philosophers have questioned the possibility of a genetic epistemology, an epistemology concerned with the developmental transitions between successive states of knowledge in the individual person. Since most arguments against the possibility of a genetic epistemology crucially depend upon a sharp distinction between the genesis of an idea and its justification, I argue that current philosophy of science raises serious questions about the universal validity of this distinction. Then I discuss several senses of the genetic fallacy, indicating which sense of ‘genesis’ is relevant to epistemology. Next I consider the objection that psychology is irrelevant to epistemology, and that since "genetic epistemology" is really psychology, "genetic epistemology" is irrelevant to a real epistemology. Finally, I take up the objection that nothing discovered in genetic psychology could be relevant to a genetic epistemology. These last two arguments are based upon what I claim to be a mistaken notion of the nature of psychology. Suitably interpreted, psychology can assist genetic epistemology precisely in the way that the history of science assists current philosonhv of science. *I owe considerable thanks to Jann Benson, Ken Freeman, Bernie Rollin and Ron Williams for their helpful discussions concerning many of the issues discussed in this paper. I also wish to thank David Hamlyn, John Heil, William Lycan, Harvey Siegel and an anonymous reviewer for their comments and suggestions. It goes without saying that none of these individuals (especially Hamlyn and Siegel) necessarily agree with me. An earlier version of this paper was read at Colorado State University where the audience's comments were beneficial.
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/38.3.283
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